Parris Island in the Summer

Ellie, Alex and I were sitting at breakfast Monday when the phone rang. It was a sunny summer morning. The doors and windows were open and the air was fresh and cool. It was the kind of morning that makes you happy just because everything seems too perfect. Now you all know Ellie of course, but you may not all know Alex.

Alex is my first born. He is just short of six feet tall, good looking and intelligent. He has an easy going demeanor until you get to know him better and beneath that exterior is a pretty hot temper. He doesn’t get angry fast, but when he gets angry, you don’t want to be on the receiving end. There is lots more to Alex, too, and for the past six months we have been discovering what else sits below the surface.

Alex is one of these guys who has taken a while to find himself. Now 22, he puttered aimlessly through college and it wasn’t until I lost my job that things really needed to change. His dad and I sat him down for one of “those talks.” In addition to assuming responsibility for himself and his education, we suggested he consider military service. We did this after careful thought and a lot of discussion. Alex received his parental admonitions with silence. But he did take action. He visited the Army, Air Force and the Marines. It was the latter branch that caught his fancy. He took the practice admission test, got the record best score for his recruiting station and something caught fire with him. Not content with his score, he got a test prep book and studied. When he headed to Albany for the real test, he got a perfect score. Alex began to work out daily at the recruiting station. Over the course of weeks he became stronger and gained in physical presence. Was he really taller? He began to carry himself with authority. He could do 105 sit-ups in two minutes, 9 pull-ups and shaved minutes off his three mile run. He was given responsibility for a small squad of poolees. He wanted his squad to excel and began to anticipate what they would need to learn next and to guide them in learning and doing more. On Saturdays the recruiting office would have mini-boot camps. Alex and the other poolees would head off to hike up Bear Mountain with a 40 pount pack, dummy M-16 for training exercises. Twelve hours later he would return. Tired, sunburned, scraped, but without a word of complaint. He became the Alex that we always knew was there. He had found his passion.

Ellie and I were teasing Alex as he spoke on the phone that morning. With energy and conviction, Alex’s end of the conversation consisted of “Yes, Sir, Sargentmartin.” Sargent Martin was one word with the end of sargent disappearing into Martin. “Yes, Sergent Martin.” “I understand, Sergent Martin.” Alex spoke with respect and admiration. He hung up the phone and said, “I go to boot camp today.”

Poolee Frost

So, Alex is down in Parris Island. I know he is having a hell of a time. There is nothing easy about Marine boot camp and Parris Island in the summer is a misery of heat, humidity, sand fleas and drill instructors. During the 13 weeks Alex is in boot camp, his drill instructors will break him down and build him up as a Marine. They will push him and bully him and forge him into a man. Jim and I have seen videos of the experience. I almost wish I hadn’t.

This is clearly not a post about a 3-day breast cancer walk. But it is a post about so many of the shared values and goals in life which drive the walk and the fight against cancer. It is about passion and a love of life. It is about finding the meaning in one’s life. It is about going after what you believe in and what you want in life and overcoming the obstacles which may be in one’s way. It is about love and respect and pride. These are the things which inspire some of us to walk, some of us to dream and some of us to fight.

I am so proud of my son. I am proud that he has felt called to serve his country. I am proud that he has found something he believes in and that he is going after it with every fiber of his being. I wish him all the best as every mother wishes the best for her son and in a corner of my heart I fear for how great his sacrifice might be. But most of all I am thankful that he has found this passion in his life and I think of him with great love and respect.

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4 Comments to “Parris Island in the Summer”

  1. What a lovely revery about a son beginning “the first days of the rest of his life,” with courage and conviction, and a loving mom backing him.

    Molly

  2. Very moving. My dad was a Marine and I believe good men are drawn to the Marines and the experience burnishes them into even better men. A sense of mission is a gift to be cherished. Alex is a lucky young man.

  3. Jenny—Reading this post I am brought back to my many emails with Genreal Krulak who was Commandant of the Marines for many years–he and I started emailing when I was headed into Chemo and I decided to pattern my chemo after the Marines. I felt they were the group I wanted coming to save me after all I had learned and my own first hand experience with meeting many and even with hearing them sing their fight song. I wrote about them on my blog as well. I spent time learning what I could and envisioning this fighting force that leaves no man behind, that stays until the job is done even if it takes years and that lies in wait. They are the first in and the last out. You have every right to be proud of your son and the job he is taking on. The Marines are strong, brave and dedicated. What an incredible thing to say about your child.

  4. Jenny – I am so behind in e-mails and just read this posting. I am so happy for Alex and so admire your support for him for this is not an easy life he is choosing. I have been living with the ramifications of that kind of choice with Sydny Miner of late, whose son chose to go to West Point and is now serving his first rotation in Iraq for the next year. We are very fortunate to have such thoughtful young men serve our country.

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